Closet Constructor: Descending Into (March) Madness

Or, a cautionary tale about attempting fan gear

March 22, 2024 11:45 am
a collage of items on a picture background
Is it okay to wear fan gear? We discuss.

Nota bene: If you buy through the links in this article, we may earn a small share of the profits.

Welcome to Closet Constructor, a weekly series where I (a style editor) help you (a well-meaning person who likes clothes) discover new, interesting, and affordable ways to really start dressin’. A quick editor’s note: this was written prior to the whole Kentucky debacle, which was clearly cosmic retribution for the very mention of vintage KU sports gear. Feel free to sub in your preferred (and still alive) historic powerhouse of choice when hounding Grailed.

March brings out the worst in people. Dads betting the house on a college basketball game from an app on their iPhone, coworkers breathing down your neck about how to best fill out your bracket, blowhard alumni taking way too much pride in the fact they majored in communications at UConn 20-odd years ago. Worst of all, it exposes just how many guys own a primary-colored Under Armour polo with a polyester colligate crest ironed on the chest. And how many are willing to wear them. In public.

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Before you ask, yes, my alma mater may or may not have narrowly missed out this year, and no, I’m not bitter about the crooked NCAA selection process in the slightest. But broken ranking system aside (RIP to the Mountain West), I think of myself as a reasonable judge of personal style. Sure, not everything is for me, but, within reason, I think that people should wear what they like. After all, rules are there as guardrails, and, in many cases, are fully meant to be broken. Case and point: I firmly believe there are workarounds for rocking an out-of-trend-but-iconic jacket.

But as your friendly arbiter of what is acceptable to put on your body and a general man of principle, there are a few cardinal directives that superseded any personal nominations I might have about the zen of live and let live wear. No-show socks are a no-go, regardless of your sneaker choice. The V-neck tee should never dip past your pecs. And, obviously, that 99.99% of the time, “fan gear” is an affront to everything good and holy.

March Madness Shirt
Tip numero uno for surviving sports gear: opt for vintage.

Call me a hater, but the joke is on you, pal. I’m not alone in thinking that your Gonzaga Dri-FIT looks dumb. The modern school of sensibly dressed men thought would suggest that, unless it’s a ‘90s footy kit, a sports jersey of any kind is decidedly non grata. I’m not here to challenge that — sleeveless basketball joints made for 6’4″ ballers who can shoot 40% from the arc don’t tend to flatter the average finance bro. Similarly, a clingy “performance” polo ain’t it, chief. You are not Coach K.

So, how does the compelled fan pull off fan gear beyond a tastefully uni-branded dad cap? My honest answer? Don’t. The realm of technical branded apparel and bookstore windbreakers is fraught with ill-fitting, shit-quality garments that are, if anything, an embarrassment to your institution. Risk versus reward would indicate that you’re better off dropping the $65 on pitchers of Miller Lite when your team inevitably bows out early.

If you really, desperately feel called to rep your school pride, there is another way. It is a well-documented if slightly obnoxious fact that vintage fan gear is just better. Better construction, better fit, better design. Maybe it’s some primacy bias, but they just don’t make a slightly baggy champion sweatshirt with a screen-printed tiger dunking like they used to. It’ll usually take some digging — in person or at online shops with resale programs like Urban Outfitters, Grailed or, shockingly, Etsy — but there are plenty a retro to be had.

One more piece of advice — treat this fan gear acquisition like the statement piece that it is. No need to go full yellow ‘fit for your beloved Hawkeyes. Pairing down whatever 30-year-old piece of apparel you’ve acquired with sensible staples like relaxed chinos or a heavyweight tee should do enough to telegraph that you are chill like that, both in your personal style and your ability to not duff someone out over free throws.

There you have it. How to survive March Madness, fan gear edition. Have a weekend full of half-court shots and lots of drinks.

Thoughts? Comments? Queries on how to pick out the perfect pair of socks? Email me your questions and concerns at

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